Navigational events are proving ever more popular, so James Page and Greg MacLeman went to Wales to see if they knew their Tulips from their tripmeters.
During the 1950s and ’60s, rallying formed the backbone of amateur club motorsport. Across the UK, enthusiasts organised their own events, which often took place at night. A young Vic Elford competed in rallies organised by the Sevenoaks and District Motor Club, while Henry Liddon – who went on to win the Rallye Monte-Carlo with Paddy Hopkirk in 1964 and Rauno Aaltonen in ’67 – was a regular on the BAC Motor Club’s Cross Trophy.
As historian Pete Stowe has noted, these grassroots events were ‘tests of route-finding rather than outright speed’, but even so the RAC began to increase the legislation around them. Clubs branched out into other forms of the sport and stage-based rallies came to the fore.
In the 1980s, however, the late Philip Young (see page 12) instigated a resurgence in events that replicated the cerebral challenge offered by period navigational rallying. It has become a huge scene in its own right, which is why we’ve come to the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation (HERO) in South Wales to see whether we can tell one end of a map from the other.
The company offers an Arrive & Drive package that enables you to compete in one of its own cars – from the Porsche 911 for which digital editor Greg MacLeman and I make a beeline, to a Lancia Integrale, Alfa 1750GTV and even an Austin Seven special. It’s not only novices that use this service as a way of trying a rally without having to invest in their own car. Seasoned campaigners from overseas often choose it instead of shipping their classic to the UK. There’s a single-day Driving Experience, too, which introduces newcomers to the various forms of navigation, using HERO’s fleet to head into the Brecon Beacons and surrounding countryside. That’s what we’ll be attempting.
The basic premise of historic rallying is that you have to get from the start of a section to the finish in a particular time. That time assumes an average speed that will never be more than 30mph, and the amount of help you have in plotting your way along the route varies depending on the level of that particular rally. To add to the pressure, secret intermediate controls will ensure that you are keeping on time.
The initial section that MacLeman and I have to tackle is a Jogularity, a system devised for the first Le Jog event in the early 1990s. We are given a printout of the route, with landmarks noted as well as the time at which we should be passing them. So, for example, it might say ‘gate on left’. Look across the page and it tells us that, if we’ve stuck to the required average speed, we should be passing that gate 2 mins 8 secs after leaving the start line. There is also information on the distance and time between each landmark, while junctions are highlighted.
I take the first stint in the navigator’s seat, quickly discarding the interval details (far too confusing…) to concentrate on calling out each landmark and giving MacLeman feedback as to how we’re doing in terms of time. We have 17 mins 41 secs in which to cover the 8.09 miles.
The average speeds for the section are between 24 and 30mph, which sounds easy enough. For the most part it is, even though much of it is country lanes. The problems start when you miss a landmark and lose where you are on the list. Even on a practice day such as this,there’s a moment of slight panic;on a real event,it must be horrifying.
The other issue is how quickly you go from being roughly on time to 20 secs behind if,for example, you have to stop to let another vehicle come the other way on a narrow section.It happens to us, and MacLeman enjoys a short section of spirited driving to get us back on time.
It all goes to plan until the end of the regularity. Having tracked our progress via staggered crossroads, gates, junctions, warning signs and postboxes, I miss a turning in to a lay-by (which would likely have contained an intermediate control were this a genuine stage) only 0.3 miles from the end. As a result, we arrive 6 secs early.
After being worryingly vague to begin with (“Er,there’s a gate somewhere up here…”), MacLeman fares better when we swap places and try again, getting us to the finish line only 1 sec before our allotted time.
Our next challenge is a 7.44-mile Tulip route. This system replaces written instructions with diagrams – a ball or blob at one end shows you where you are coming from, a narrow head shows where you are going. Whereas the Jogularity had given us a near-constant stream of instructions to follow, here the guidelines are much less frequent –there are only seven in total, from going through speed-limit signs to crossing a cattle grid and taking junctions.
The relative lack of information means that a decent tripmeter–which will need to have been calibrated over a set distance at the beginning of the event–is essential to ensure that you really are where you think you are. On the Jogularity section, we had been able to get away with it to a certain extent because the feedback came thick and fast. This time, there is longer between instructions so we need to know that we’ve covered, say, 4.61 miles since the previous one and that this really is the left turn that we need.
Fortunately, it is a relatively straight forward run,and I deliver MacLeman to the end of the section without any navigational errors –or ‘wrong slots’. We then follow a marked route on the map back to the HERO headquarters. This is the simplest form of map navigation. Others include ‘plot and bash’(crew receives map references, translates them into locations, and charts a route between them),Herringbone(route is simplified into a straight line with roads ‘to leave’ – ie. junctions–drawn above and below that line) and London Rally (a series of way points–A,B, C,etc–provide the framework for the route).
‘Plot and bash’ formed the basis for most period club rallies, and if it turns up in an historic event you will need to understand map references.In contrast, you could complete a Tulip or Jogularity section without referring to the Ordnance Survey charts. On some rallies, you will need to be aufait with each discipline.
Take last year’s Le Jog. Competitors received three map books to take them from one end of the UK to the other. The road sections were marked with a black line that you needed to follow.That was the easy bit. Every so often, however, the black line stopped. There was an ominous gap of many miles before it started again, and it was between those two points that the regularity sections took place.
Those legs took different forms. Regularity Section A began at Morvahin Cornwall and finished near Lelant. Crews used six map references that were supplied to them at Land’s End top lot the shortest route. Regularity Section B lasted for almost 20 miles and was a Jogularity. Section C was another Jogularity, D needed to be calculated from a Herring bone layout and E from a number of specified way points. LeJog is renowned for its gruelling nature,though,and not all rallies are so taxing.
“There are certain events where you need the sort of mind that could do a cryptic crossword,” says HERO’s Peter Nedin, who cut his teeth on the Welsh club scene,“but organisers can do that iatrickery rather than making the route tough. Different levels of rally have different levels of information in the route book. Jogularity gives you times to beat certain points. Others don’t do that–you have to work it out for yourself, which involves us in a separate average-speed table.”
HERO rates its fixtures with a colour-coding system: Green is for introductory rallies, which means day time driving, in summer, on surfaced roads and using Tulip and Jogularity navigation. Blue is intermediate, Red advanced and Black is expert, involving maps, day and night driving on mixed surfaces, and with an endurance factor thrown in. Cars have to be pre-1986 and to period-correct specification; the focus on reliability rather than performance means that you don’t need to spend a fortune on preparation.
“Most events have a non-competitive touring element for people who still want to be part of it,” says Nedin.“You can get into it that way and then move from tour to trial. It enables you to enjoy it at first before you get more serious. When you do that, if you get the navigation right first, the time keeping will come.”
Taken separately,neither the navigational element nor the timekeeping one are all that difficult. It’s when you have to combine them that it becomes a genuine challenge. I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to do it in the dark, in the middle of night, having had very little sleep and with hundreds of miles still to go. Road rallying maybe cerebral rather than visceral, but it’s no less rewarding for that.
“The people on this type of event are brilliant, so resourceful and always willing to help,” says Owens, who competes on everything from one-day UK rallies to the Mille Miglia, often with his wife Colette and son Thomas. “Who I take with me depends on the type of event. I do some, such as the Poppy Rally, where I will have a more experienced co-driver. I went on the 1000 Mile Trial with my wife, though, and that was stunning. I was blown away by the scenery. Then I took my son on the Scottish Malts. “They have both been to a rally school to learn about navigation and were told that they were very much in charge in the car; it was their ‘office.’ The navigators are the unsung heroes.That’s where you see the youngsters coming through, because you don’t need to own the car, you just need to find a sympathetic driver. There is a skill to the driving aswell, but you have to be a partnership. You do see people falling out – I’ve been on events where the driver and navigator weren’t talking by the end of the first day. It can certainly test a relationship.”
“I started rallying with a Mini when I was about 20,”says 2014 HERO Cup winner Crosby,“but later had to give it up because of other commitments.I only recently got back into it with a 1970 Porsche 911–last year was my first full season. It’s not the cheapest hobby, but everyone involved is incredibly friendly and welcoming. “I started at the deep end with the Winter Challenge, which is rated Black by HERO. We finished third in class and–being a bit competitive– I started to really get into it once those points were on the board. “Andy Pullen was my co-driver form any of the events. You can make the last bit of difference as a driver, and a reliable car needs to be a given, but really it’s 75% down to the navigator. How Andy kept going on Le Jog, for example, is beyond me –27 hours without sleep. It’s all about having fun, too, and I wouldn’t sit next to somebody whose company I didn’t enjoy. You have to share responsibility–having a go at your navigator if something goes wrong isn’t going to help.”
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